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By Alejandra Ocampos Facundo Pieres has undoubtedly secured a place on the polo Olympus. He is one of the best players in the world, and currently Adolfo Cambiaso’s runner-up in the World Polo Tour ranking. In fact, he has a great chance of catching up with the number 1 player. Facundo has recently added another title to his spectacular career, after winning the US Open in Palm Beach with Zacara. His second US Open Championship, so to speak, as he had already won this title in 2009 with Audi, playing with his two brothers, Nicolás and Gonzalito. Upon returning to Buenos Aires, Facu represented Argentina yet again in a match played in Palermo against Brazil for the Nations Cup, where he shared the honour with his brother Gonza once more. He was also given the honour in 2010, in England, when he shared the billing with Adolfo Cambiaso during that edition of the Coronation Cup. After establishing himself as a champion in the United States, and little before leaving for England to participate in a new season, in which he’ll be playing for La Bamba de Areco together with Nico, Facundo Pieres spoke to PoloLine. It was a relaxed conversation to talk about everything with a real 10-goal player both on and off the field. What were Zacara’s expectations at the start of the US season? Did you ever think you’d make it through to the US Open final? We honestly did. Our objective was to make it through to the final. I was personally convinced that we had a good team, and undoubtedly we expected to win. However, when we arrived in the United States, and despite the fact that we won several games, we didn’t exactly start off the best possible way. Although we knew that we did have a chance of winning, we realised it wasn’t going to be easy. In an interview after the US Open final, you made a special mention regarding Joaquín Pittaluga, which gave the impression that it was hard for you not having him on the team at the time. Why did he leave the team? I made up the team. Last year, Magoo’s (NR: Cristian Laprida Jr.’s) handicap was lowered, and since both him and Jaoquín are two of my best friends, I wanted to play with them. So, I spoke to my patron (NR: Lyndon Lea, Zacara’s patron), and we invited Joaquín to join us. As I mentioned before, we didn’t start off too well, that is to say, we could’ve won, but we weren’t playing well. Our patron then told me that although it was a good team, if we wished to win we needed to make a change, and therefore, it was time to let Joaquín go. I told him I didn’t think it was the right thing to do because Joaquín had already been hired, but our patron said that he’d get paid all the same, as established in his contract. I did everything I could. I tried to keep Joaquín on the team, but after several conversations, our patron decided to make this change. It was very hard for me telling Joaquín that he had to leave. He’s one of my best friends and the truth is that it was very complicated. Besides, I didn’t feel like making this change because we deserved an opportunity with Joaquín, and trying to win with him. Furthermore, I don’t agree too much with changes carried out halfway through the season but, oh well, they are the owners and they decide. I did everything I possibly could to keep Joaquín on the team, but there came a time when the whole situation became unsustainable, and unfortunately he had to leave. What was Mike Azzaro’s contribution towards Zacara, as regards his experience? When Mike joined the team, he played further forward. As a result, we played one very good match and another very bad one and, therefore, a change of positions was decided upon, and consequently Mike played as a back. After this, we were able to work smoothly as a team and gradually improved. We won six games, and as we played very well we became confident in each other and felt far more comfortable. Had you ever played with Mike Azzaro before? No, it was the first time. He’s a very good player, with great strength, and he played very well as a back. He gradually gave us the confidence we needed. I think that his greatest contribution was his defensive performance, and we became far more solid in that respect, because I noticed that the rest of the teams were finding it difficult to score goals against us. Back in Buenos Aires, you were chosen once again to play for Argentina together with Gonza against Brazil in the Nations Cup. What was it like representing your country in Palermo? Well, I had already been chosen to play the match, and I was more or less prepared to do so. I knew we’d be playing against Brazil, a very tough team. To be honest, we were a little scared that things wouldn’t pan out as desired because at first the match was scheduled Saturday but was later rescheduled for Sunday, and I arrived from the United States on Tuesday, so there was hardly any time to play practices games, and into the bargain I barely knew the horses I was going to play. We surely had our doubts. Furthermore, it was Carlos Deladino’s first time in Palermo, and we were scared that this would work against us. But, luckily, we managed to handle the situation and we played very well with Gonza and Pablito (Llorente). The key to success lay in the goal difference we were able to achieve in the first few chukkas, because the Brazilians only began to attack during the second half of the game. But I knew it was going to be a tough match against four high-level players, with two outstanding figures as Joao Paulo Ganon and Rodrigo Ribeiro de Andrade. England is the next step. Where will you be playing with Nico for La Bamba de Areco. What are your expectations? Although I’ve already played abroad with Nico, in Spain, this is the first time we’ll be playing in England. We’ve already won the Gold Cup with Gonza and La Bamba. I’m really enthused because it is a new project, which means we’ll be approaching this season a different way, playing on a team we can have fun with. In theory, I believe we have a very good team, but now we have to prove it on the field. We have a very good 5-goaler (NR: Max Routledge), and Jean-Francois (Decaux) has improved a great deal. The only thing we’re missing now is to achieve optimal team functioning and have everyone see it on the field. But as I said, I’m really enthused. What do you think about Nico’s progress as a player? There’s still a lot he has to improve on, but that’s only normal for a 21-year-old. In any case, he has made great progress over the past two years. The experience of having played the Open Championship did him a lot of good, and it really changed his way of playing. I personally feel very comfortable playing with him. Nico needs to play with someone who’ll give him a hand and arrange his game a little on the field. That achieved, he could play like a 10-goaler because there’ no limit to what he can do. He rides very fast. He has shown very good stick-and-ball skills, and he’s also very strong. As a player, I consider him to be very versatile. All he needs is to mature a little and use his head a bit more while playing. As soon as that clicks, there’s no stopping him. He’s going to be an amazing player, a spectacular figure. He’s a very strong and battle-hardened player through and through, and I must insist upon his stick-and-ball skills, which are extraordinary, and not very common, mind you. He just needs to use his head a little more while playing. As regards the upcoming Argentine season, how did Mariano become part of the team? Was it planned for this year? No. The truth is that after we finished playing the Open Championship with Nachi, we took the next few days to think about what we should do. At one point, we had decided to continue playing with Nachi, but after a couple of meetings... the fact that Mariano is a part of our family carried weight, because we get along very well with him, and if we refrained from giving ourselves the opportunity to play together now, we’d never manage to do it again. So the idea is to play with him for two or three years, with actually no time limit. We wish to give the family a chance. Anyhow, we’re very happy with Nachi and his effort. The team did well. We won the Tortugas Open, and we made it through to the Hurlingham and Palermo finals. I have nothing to reproach him or the team. The idea of playing with Mariano was a whole different decision, the fact that we wanted this to stay in the family. On the other hand, Mariano is the kind of player we really like, and perhaps we were lacking a player who could get the team to work properly together, because I think that neither Gonza nor Nico or I can do it. Moreover, Mariano has one of the best polo organisations, which will help us a lot, and that’s important to win. The combination of Mariano’s organisation with that of Ellerstina’s will be very powerful. Obviously, this isn’t something that has been happening up to now, but much has been said about the possibility of having 10 teams play in Palermo instead of 8. What’s your opinion in this respect? I think it’s a good decision. What I find most interesting about this proposal is that the Palermo Open would last longer, because after waiting all year for it to come, everybody likes this event, and we all feel it’s too short. Furthermore, there are many more competitive teams now. In the qualifying round you see 32 and 33-goal teams who are fit to play in Palermo, and they definitely should. The negative part is that we’d end up having two zones with five teams each, that is to say, odd zones, and therefore there’ll be an open date which implies not playing for two weeks. That would affect us in a negative way. We’d have to find a way to avoid that happening, and prevent us from stopping for two whole weeks.